Why the ‘intersectionality debate’ is funny

A few years ago, ‘radical’ and ‘feminist’ media cultures attempted to transition to the internet. Anyway, this predominantly white, male led, upper class culture, attempted to demand that the people they encountered change their reality to fit in with the things they had decided were their identity. Demanded that anyone they encountered in their new internet paddling pool, change their reality to suit identities developed in cloistered universities and media organisations.

Understandably some people were quite upset. Or amused at the request. And refused. For women of colour, working class women, and the rest of us with complex identities and lives, who had long had to tolerate the impact of  a white upper class sealed off media cultures shaping the world we live in, it was absurd that they believed this possible. An education being subjected to the demand.

A fabulous essay by Flavia Dzodan, called upon an idea that Kimberley Crenshaw had articulated two decade ago, to rage against this bullshit. I urge anyone with ten minutes on their hands to read it. The understanding of intersecting inequality isn’t new.

Most of the professions in our public sector, in the services that address inequality, already have a nuanced understanding of the need to reflect on your own values, attitudes, and your place in the system, to avoid harming those you work with. Anti-oppressive practice in social work, supervision systems in psychiatry, psychology, healthcare provision, all demand that reflection on the impact of what you do on those you work with. We are a long long way past the buzzword of ‘intersectionality’. By a good couple of decades.

Anyway, the vacuous self absorbed media brats, and existing media behemoths were shocked to the very core by the people they encountered refusing to forget everything they know and are, and ignore the massive knowledge developed in the 20th century.

THey couldn’t believe the audacity of people refusing to change their reality to suit their political needs, and could not fathom why the people who had surely been waiting a lifetime to be a badge to decorate the identity of a media lefty or feminst could not do this. ‘Intersectionality’ became the buzzword du jour.

Friends of Laurie Penny decided intersectionality meant their right to target female journalists and encourage abuse of those women, and Russell Group feminists and posh lefties all over the place started thinking about how they were going to explain this ‘new’ concept to the poor grateful plebs.

‘No shit, you are going to explain how inequality intersects and shapes my life, social policy systems, and economic systems? Oh you were just going to tell me the thing you heard on twitter?’ *patshead

This was played out on twitter and in the broadsheets, with vacuous morons competing to dominate a chatroom shouting ‘intersectionality’, convinced this was another word to justify them being a gateway to the primary institutions of media and political discourse.

What they didn’t realise, was their vocal and visible civil wars were just a demonstration of the baby steps they were taking as they prepared to deal with the outside world. While we watched and laughed as they explained that to understand intersecting inequality, the poor plebs they were now forced to mix with, would have to learn their language and social norms or face abuse for not doing so.

As a vignette for how the cultures around politics, media, and the not so radical politics of elite universities struggled to mix with the outside world, it was funny. Hilarious in fact. It is still ongoing and whenever I see a posh post grad attempting to ‘explain’ intersecting inequality, I have a little chuckle at the difficulty they are having in transitioning to a world where they meet the people fucked over by them. Confident that they will be forced to catch up because the systems which allowed them to retain that ignorance no longer exist.


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